Putting Ohio State’s historic draft showing in perspective
The NFL Draft offers a unique perspective on college football. Here are some notes, nuggets and numbers from the 2016 draft.
* You can find all sorts of ways in which Nick Saban has transformed the Alabama program since his arrival in 2007. One of the biggest has been just how much tougher and better the Tide has become in the trenches. Here’s a stat that echoes that: On Thursday night when center Ryan Kelly went No. 18 to the Colts, he became Alabama’s fifth O-lineman to go in the first round since 2009. Before Nick Saban arrived they had ONE first-round offensive lineman in the previous 27 years.
Saban also has another likely first-round O-lineman on-deck in Cam Robinson, a 6-6, 327-pound left tackle. The 20-year-old doesn’t quite have the feet of Laremy Tunsil but scouts say he is more physical than either the former Ole Miss star or Notre Dame standout Ronnie Stanley.
* As expected Ohio State had a record-setting draft class. The Buckeyes had 10 players go in the first three rounds. That wasn’t just an NFL draft record — it was also one more draft pick than the entire Big 12 had through three rounds and equal the total of the entire Pac-12.
A big key to OSU’s loaded crop was the success of Urban Meyer’s first full recruiting cycle with the Buckeyes — 2013 — which produced (so far) four Top 20 picks: Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple and Darron Lee. A fifth member of that class, safety Vonn Bell went in the second round.
As I alluded to, there’s still some talent from that ’13 class in Columbus. D-lineman Tyquan Lewis actually led the Buckeyes last year with eight sacks and 14 TFLs. Gareon Conley is a fast corner with good length. Cameron Burrows at one point was pushing Bell for the starting safety spot. Billy Price will be a three-year starter at guard. Marcus Baugh is a 6-5, 255-pound tight end who started a handful of games last season. Dontre Wilson, an explosive H-back from Texas, figures to get more opportunities in 2016 after a couple of seasons dealing with foot issues.
* I’ve maintained that QBs and O-linemen are the two trickiest positions for folks to evaluate out of high school. With Carson Wentz, an old 0-star prospect and Paxton Lynch, a former two-star guy, going in the first round this year, that makes five of the eight first-round quarterbacks of the past three seasons three-star prospects or lower — with three of ’em being two-star recruits or less.
* Baylor’s baseball (Jimmy Landes) and basketball (Rico Gathers) teams produced two NFL draft picks — one more than Texas’ football program did. The Longhorns stunning drought of not having an O-lineman drafted now swells to eight years. Baylor’s had seven go in the past seven years. But I doubt the Longhorns are going to stay quiet much longer. Charlie Strong’s track record for evaluating and developing players is impressive. After one of his old recruits, DT Sheldon Rankins, went in the first round Thursday night, Strong’s old program has now had nine players taken in the first three rounds in the past three years. U of L only had seven in the previous 10 years.
* Speaking of development, one of the more amazing stats from the draft involves Michigan State. With former walk-on OT Jack Conklin going eighth overall to the Titans, Mark Dantonio’s program has now gone three consecutive years where it has had a player who came in as a "two-star" recruit or lower become a first-round pick, following Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes.
* Only one college coach has had a player selected in the Top 15 in four of the past five drafts. It’s not Nick Saban or Les Miles or Bob Stoops. It’s actually Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia.
* Another draft and another reminder why the state of Florida is king when it comes to producing elite football talent. Seven first-rounders are Florida natives, for the second time in a row. Those 14 first-rounders are by far the most of any state in the past two years.
* The SEC edged the Big Ten for most draft picks this year by 51-47. The SEC almost doubled the ACC and Big 12, which both had 26. (The Pac-12 had 32.) But it wasn’t all rosey for Greg Sankey’s league. Its streak of producing a Top 5 overall pick was snapped at nine years.